Europe Aims for Digital Sovereignty With Gaia-X Cloud Plan

Germany and France plan to launch Gaia-X, a government-backed cloud infrastructure project, with the goal of allowing local providers to compete with dominant U.S. cloud providers. Amazon and Microsoft criticized Gaia-X for limiting data services by national borders. However, French and German companies are wary of dependence on those tech behemoths, which must comply with the U.S. Cloud Act, a 2018 law that requires them to provide personal data to law enforcement, even when the servers are outside of the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Frank Melzer, chief technology officer of Festo, a German robotics company, that, “there’s no answer to the question of how secure our data really is,” echoing the concern of many European firms. With Gaia-X, cloud providers “will be required to certify to their corporate customers that their information remains secure and provide guarantees about where it is stored and how it is processed.”

The cloud companies would also be required to standardize, enabling customers to easily move data between providers. According to the German Economy Ministry, a governance structure for Gaia-X will be created before the end of 2019.

Until now, added the German Economy Ministry, “some European companies that use large American cloud providers say those services are more competitively priced than cloud services in Europe … [but] Gaia-X could lower transaction costs by standardizing contracts and processes between cloud providers and customers.”

German bank Commerzbank spokeswoman added that “details about performance, services and cost will determine whether European cloud providers can compete with non-European suppliers.” Commerzbank currently uses Google and IBM cloud services.

Gaia-X also aims to “help European companies in industries such as manufacturing and health care in their efforts to develop algorithms and artificial intelligence without relying on foreign technology providers.” “We need something like an Airbus for artificial intelligence,” said German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, referring to the European multi-national plane manufacturer.

A Microsoft spokesperson agreed that “digital sovereignty is a legitimate goal, adding, in the cloud age, however, we think it is wrong to define sovereignty solely along territorial borders.” Despite the criticism, Microsoft stated it is interested in “participating in Gaia-X.”

The German Economy Ministry stated that companies outside the European Union can participate in the initiative if they “share our goals of data sovereignty and data availability.” But a Ministry spokeswoman “declined to comment on whether U.S.-based companies can meet those goals if they comply with the U.S. Cloud Act.”